Initially formed in the late ‘90s, Maryland’s The Convocation started out as The Convocation Of… and was a three-piece featuring guitarist/vocalist Tonie Joy, bassist Guy Blakeslee and drummer George France. In 2000 and 2001, they released a self-titled full-length and a follow-up called Pyramid Technology before fizzling out as bands do circa 2002. Blakeslee went on to form The Entrance Band, and Joy and France reignited the trio as The Convocation first in 2005 and have since played with a slew of bassists, among them Matthew Hall, Chris Camden, current bassist Donny Van Zandt and Jason Stevens, who happened to be in The Convocation for the 2009 release of their self-titled redux 7” single, The Convocation, on Gravity Records. Since the duo of tracks, “My History Mystery” and “Face to Face with the Beast,” the band has put out three more on a split with Chrissakes, but in the seven years since Joy (a veteran of hardcore outfit Born Against and a slew of others) and France reformed as The Convocation, neither a full album nor an EP has materialized. Whatever the situation in the band was or is, the songs “My History Mystery” and “Face to Face with the Beast,” both circling around the four-minute mark, prove worthy of a follow-up, reminding as they do of the earliest part of the ‘90s, as grunge didn’t yet have the name and was still just the weirdo rock that baggy-pants skaters listened to.
Both tracks affect that kind of sensibility – if updated some in the production – but especially “My History Mystery,” which quickly after its launch brings in ringing-out guitar notes and a visceral rhythmic tension, calls to mind some intangible aspect of the year 1991. I don’t know if it’s Helmet I’m hearing there, or Soundgarden, or even something like Tad, but all are a fair touchstone one way or another for the atmosphere The Convocation are culling together on the single, Joy’s vocals coming on as though from a blown out megaphone. The song has basically three parts, a verse, a chorus and an ending, but the simplicity is put to good use, and whatever may have happened to eject Stevens from the band since, his bass is a key factor in what makes the song work so well. Along with straightforward drumming from France, Joy has a rhythmic, almost Fugazi-type vocal cadence, but his efforts most pay off as his voice and the guitar come together in the lines of the verse. It’s a rolling groove in the first part of the song, and that continues into the second, which follows a short, heavily-wah’ed solo and once again seems to find its foundation in the bass-led rhythm. A single line is repeated over a subtle build, and if you pay too close attention to it, it almost sounds like they’re doing it too much, but if you back off a bit and just ride it out, the build can genuinely take you along with it to a kind of sub-culmination – it’s not like there’s a sudden burst of energy that might qualify as a payoff – of slick basslines and guitar leads and France’s kit holding the whole thing together. As one of two, it’s a solid leadoff track, and its second part, though repetitive, turns out to be the catchiest part of the entire release.
Not that that’s saying much for a 7”, but it’s true nonetheless. “Face to Face with the Beast” is more complex but no less tonally rich. Stevens’ bass continues to provide heft and act as a focal point, more alongside Joy’s guitar than behind it. The riff patterning is different, as Joy holds out the last note of each line and lets it feedback a little, allowing for a noisier feel overall, but neither song is so disparate from the other as to be out of place. Joy takes a longer solo, and Stevens seems to follow him along in it until a break at 3:01 finds the rhythm section temporarily sitting out while Joy lets out a few lead notes before kicking back in with the more active finish of the song. With a more punkish beat, France gives the back end of “Face to Face with the Beast” a harder push, but they bring back the chorus once more to cap the track and end with that. It’s not really a landmark movement from one end of the cut to the other, or I guess from one side of the vinyl to the other, but The Convocation have a strong hold on a solid aesthetic, and if they managed to put an album out that was varied around these basic ideas, you certainly wouldn’t hear me complain about it. Joy, who was a founder of Moss Icon (whose complete discography recently received vinyl reissue on Temporary Residence), has been in and out of The Pilgrim and Cold Cave over the last couple years, so it’s not like he’s been stagnant, but if The Convocation is like the home to which he periodically returns, then hopefully he makes it back sometime soon. I’d be interested to hear how they change up their approach for an LP.
Tags: Baltimore, Gravity Records, Maryland, The Convocation